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Grading the Calorie-Counting Web Sites

Posted Jul 07 2008 7:14pm

I was cleaning out my inbox and found this article a friend sent me some time ago. I think it's pretty interesting, though a little out dated now. Posted it anyway. And I pasted some of the comments on it that were particularly interesting to me.  -A

April 30, 2008,  4:29 pm


Grading the Calorie-Counting Web Sites

ByJennifer 8. Lee

The decision by a federal appeals court on Tuesday night has put thecity rules requiring calorie posting in New York City establishmentsinto effect — at least temporarily, pending the ultimate outcome of the lawsuit. The city will be able to issue violations without fines starting now, though it probably won’t immediately do so. (The fines, if the city wins, wouldn’t start until a new deadline of July 18.)

In a statement,Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, said, “McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and the other big chains that haven’t yet listed calories as required by the Health Code have run out of stalling tactics. Some chains have worked hard to deny customers information they need to make healthy food choices — but this decision starts to clear the way for people to have ready access to calorie information when they order their food.”

Chuck Hunt, a spokesman for theNew York State Restaurant Association, said, “I’m disappointed.”

He said that printing and posting calorie counts “is not something that can be done overnight.” He said the ruling means that restaurants “will have to do things they wouldn’t necessarily have had to do if there had been a stay” — or if the association ultimately won the appeal.

Some companies — including Quiznos, Subway, Starbucks, Jamba Juice and Chipotle — have alreadystarted voluntarily posting their caloric informationin their stores. Others — McDonalds, Burger King and KFCs — will be forced to by this ruling. Meanwhile, the federal court case will hear the larger appeal with a court date to be set the week of June 9.

In theory, the calorie listings are supposed to be listed with the same prominence as prices. City Room was curious, if not for this regulation, how forthcoming were companies with their nutritional information?

To compare an area where there are not given standards to post nutritional information, City Room did a brief survey of the company Web sites. We found found 1) horrifying calorie numbers for items (750 calories for a venti strawberries & crème frappuccino blended crème from Starbucks, 1310 calories for a large prime rib ranchero with cheese and dressing); and 2) that some of the companies that have been most resistant about the posting have the most easily accessible nutritional information: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC.

The companies that had voluntarily posted their information in their stores made were a more mixed bag. With theexception of SubwayandStarbucks, there was style over substance in some Web sites: too much flash, too many dancing food items. It’s actually easier, in many cases, to go to third-party sites to find out how many calories things were.

Here is a City Room assessment of the ease of nutritional info on their Web sites:

Voluntary Caloric Posters

Chipotle: We knew, because of fleeting references on the Internet, that there existed a nutrition sheet for Chipotle. Tracking it down, however, on its Web site was difficult. Googling “chipotle” and “nutrition” and “calories” or any other number of combinations, brought up third-party sites (including Chipotlefan has anice nutrition calculator). The phantom nutrition sheet was not seen under “menu” or “ingredients.” Finally, an e-mail message from a representative pointed us to an FAQ, where one could find the pdf document. Right. That’s where we thought it would be.B-

Quiznos: Consumers havecomplainedabout finding the Quiznos nutritional information. New management has come in and redesigned the Web site. But the nutritional information is a headache to get to and it is available only in a Flash Player. You have to go to the menu, then click on “More Nutritional Information,” which gives you a little button under each individual sandwich. Each one of those generates a pop-up calculator, which is very cute but tedious if you want to compare across sandwiches. “Since we were late to the game as a big chain, we went with what is standard practice,” said Steve Provost, the chief marketing officer. “I think there are really cool applications out there, but the coolest ones are the ones that let you replicate the behavior on the restaurant: ‘Add the drink, nah, I’ll have a water instead. Hold the cheese.’” The sandwichesunder 500 calories are listed prominently, which bumps it up to aC+.

Jamba Juice: Fancy graphics, lots of flash and dancing blueberries, but the nutritional information is buried under each item on a “click here for nutritional info,” which creates a tastefully designed pop-up window. No way to compare across drinks. Better to go toThe Daily Plate, which has a side-by-side shorthand comparison.B-

Starbucks: The Starbucks Web site has awhole page on nutrition, easily accessible on the Web site and through Google. The page has a bunch of dropdown menus, which lets you configure a drink and also links that allows people to compare across items in a category. While it has adownloadable list for low-calorie drinks under 200 calories[pdf], it is hard to find a composite list across everything.A-

Subway: Multiple pages of information by type,easily accessible on the Web site, anddownloadable, printable versions[pdf] — part of the whole Subway ethos of more nutritional information in the hands of customers. “We’ve been providing nutritional information for quite a while for over 10 years, before it was fashionable,” said Kevin Kane, a company spokesman.A

Involuntary Caloric Posters

McDonald’s: For all its opposition to the calorie posting rule, McDonald’s nutritional info isvery easy to access. It appears all on one page, and includes adownloadable printable version[pdf] on its Web site.A

Burger King: The site has lots of downloadable lists aboutnutritional informationin the nutrition section, includinga multipage master list[pdf]. But as far as we can observe, it only appears in document form, and not on the Web site itself.B to B+

KFC: A nifty (though cumbersome)calculatoris easily accessible and will let you calculate your total caloric intake per meal. It also offers adownloadable printable version[pdf].A-


The problem isn’t fast food chains putting up information on calorie content in the food.

It’s fat people not knowing when to put the Double Whopper down.

I see that packet of Reese’s Pieces in your back pocket too! Put it down gordito and go get yourself some celery sticks!!!

— Posted by Jason F.

A good one-stop resource for restaurant calorie counts is Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone ( Scroll down the first page until you find Restaurants; she has hundreds of restaurant menus listed, with calorie, fiber, and fat counts. (The first bold number is the Weight Watchers Point count.) She’s always updating, and includes even smaller chains.

Matt, no you don’t need it to know that the big burger is bad for you, but you may need it to know that the chicken breast sandwich is worse. Some of these things aren’t intuitive.

— Posted by Beryl

For these calorie counts to be of any value, they must be related to the individual consumer, their activity level, and taken in context. The average adult, male or female, neither sedentary or overly active, requires about 15 calories per pound, per day to maintain their current weight. Obviously, a smaller female must maintain at a lower calorie count, compared to a larger male. Multiply your weight by 15, and you will have a daily calorie count to shoot for, and then adjust for individual circumstances.

— Posted by charles Judson

Do you really need a calorie chart to tell you that the triple whopper or the 1/2 pound angus bacon burger with extra chese and large fries is not good for you?

Only in the People Republic of New York.

— Posted by Matt

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